In the Mami Wata's cave, Cecile came to his rescue brandishing her pistol and bravado in equal measure. Now as she approached the sea witch, head bowed, hands outspread and empty, Charles realized how much danger they were in.
"You have something of mine," Cecile kept her voice quiet, her eyes flicking up to catch the cool green of the witch's gaze. The shark smile grew wider.
"Something that was mine to begin with," the witch countered, scooping the fur skin from the ground. It unfurled, revealing the full pelt of a seal. She ran her nails through the slick mottled brown fur. Cecile's fingers curled inward.
"Yes, and you sold her to a wretched drunk who couldn't hold his liquor or his cards," said Cecile, anger choking her voice.
The witch chuckled. "Indeed, and you took full advantage of his faults, didn't you captain?" She slung the pelt over her shoulders, sauntering toward them. She drew one long talon along Cecile's chin as she passed her, her pearly skin ghostly against the captain's dark complexion. Green eyes assessed Charles where he stood, dark and mysterious as the Sargasso Sea.
"We want her back," said Cecile, "what will it take?"
The witch didn't look away from Charles, causing the hairs along his collar to prick up. "Such a price would be rather steep. Are you certain you would pay it?"
He glanced at his captain, her tightly hunched shoulders, how she clutched her elbows. Yes, she would pay the price, no matter what insane demand the witch would make.
"By Merchant's law you have no rightful claim to the Selkie," Charles piped up, tripping over the unfamiliar word. Cecile whipped around, eyes wide. The witch's brows drew together.
"Do tell, boy," she said, her tone imperious, but there was a flicker of interest in her eyes. Charles plod on, ignoring the captain's vigorous shaking head as he strained to recall those fuzzy seminars of his student days.
"Is it true you sold Ingrid to this man Captain Pierce mentioned?" Charles gestured to the skin. If the witch's brow crept any higher it would disappear into her hairline.
"And there was an exchange of goods or services? A payment was made?"
The witch hesitated before answering. "Yes."
"By the laws of commerce, ownership of the Selkie would then transfer to this gentlemen, as such, it was his property to lose in the act of gambling, at which point, ownership transferred to Captain Pierce. By merchant law, you've stolen the captain's property."
"Is that so?" The witch grinned. Charles bit his tongue.
Cecile's jaw hug open, her eyes darting between the two of them, waiting for lightning to strike as it were. He fought the urge to cringe under the witch's toothy smile. The effort failed when she patted his cheek.
"You make a sound argument, lad, for which I applaud you, but this is not her majesty's empire. We adhere to a different set of laws down here, laws far older and more ironclad than any created by man. The gentlemen I bargained with violated the terms of his contract," the shark smile grew impossibly wide, evoking a primal terror that made his guts clench, "and he paid for it."
She drew back, buffing her nails on her frayed robe. "Still, the Selkie has been in your care and service for several years now. I would be open to an exchange."
Cecile pursed her lips. "Tell me what you are really after?" She glared at Charles to keep him from speaking. The glare wasn't necessary. He swallowed hard, widening his stance to hide the tremor in his knees.
"The selkie wasn't the only item of worth this man bargained for. When he was made aware of his contractual violation, he flung it into the sea in a foolish attempt to spite me. Normally, my possessions find their way back to me, but this one...didn't. It's progress stalled somewhere in the Mediterranean." She waved one clawed hand. "Find what is mine, return it to me, and I shall exchange's the Selkie's pelt for your service."
The captain snorted, folding her arms. "Do you honestly think I could overcome anything strong enough to subdue your magic? At least give me a sporting chance to fulfill my side of the bargain," she said. There was a spark of confidence in her once again. Now that the witch made it clear she wanted nothing from Cecile, she stood on firmer ground.
"Fear not, Captain, I shall provide a charm for you to retrieve it from whatever or whoever binds it." The witch turned to the rows of jars.
"There is something else."
"There always is, dear captain," replied the witch, dipping her hands into various containers. Ingredients went into a small mortar, which she began to pound with a pestle.
"Proof of life, I need to see her," said Cecile, her hand resting on the handle of her pistol.
The witch sneered. She turned to the looking glass, plunging her arm inside the suddenly liquid surface. She withdrew it a moment later, clutching a limp Ingrid by her hair. Cecile's lips tightened as the witch brandished the weakened Selkie at her. "Proof. Now tell me what you really want, Captain."
"I need Ingrid to accompany us, her skills are invaluable," said Cecile, a light strain evident in her voice. "You would keep her skin, and thus her loyalty, but if you truly wish to have this item back in your possession, we need her beside us."
Cecile froze as the witch leaned in her face, baring those gruesome teeth at her. "You don't truly believe the hold the pelt has on her. You think you can abscond with her, find some other deal to make. What is to stop me from burning it in her absence?"
The captain's face turned ashen. "Then you'd lose both," she whispered.
"So would you," snapped the witch, giving Ingrid a shake that made the Selkie groan.
"If she stays down here, I'll lose her anyway!" cried the captain.
The stalemate was clear between them and Ingrid was caught in the middle. Her eyes cracked open, full of pain and fear. They found Charles.
Yan pleaded with him to bring them both home, pleaded with the expendable one, the one they didn't need to succeed in retrieving a bauble for the sea witch. Except they'd come for him in the Mami Wata's lair. They could have left him, written off his death to her Majesty. They still could, but he had to have some sort of value to the crew of the Proteus now, even if he wasn't as indispensable as Ingrid. At least he hoped so.
"Collateral," he blurted. The two women turned to looked at him. Ingrid's liquid gaze fixed on him. He straightened his spine. At least if he did this, he could keep his promise to Yan. "Let the captain take Ingrid from here. I shall stay in her place until the object is returned."
The witch drew back, a considering expression on her face. She reached for something on the table behind her.
Cecile darted to him, grabbing his shoulders in a painful squeeze. "What are you thinking?" she hissed. "Charles-"
"I accept your terms," said the witch. Cecile released him to round on her, drawing her pistol.
The witch shoved something in Ingrid's unresisting hands, tossing the girl to the captain. Cecile caught her in reflex, eyes widening as she caught sight of the glowing pouch in the Selkie's grasp.
Cecile and Ingrid vanished in a swirl of scarlet smoke. The witch turned to Charles with a close lipped smile.
"Let's give them a boost shall we?" She turned to the boiling red liquid in the cauldron and blew. The waters curled and frothed at her breath before settling to a perfect calm.
The air breathed with power, crawling over his skin. "What did you do?"
She flapped a careless hand. "Sent them on their way. Now, come along dear boy. Let me show you where you'll be staying." Without looking back she waltzed through the rippling looking glass.
Charles took a deep breath, wondering when and if the Proteus would return for him. He stepped through the glass.
YOU ARE READING
The Daring Adventures of Darwin and CecileFantasy
***Winner of @JessicaBFry's Fantasy Writing Competition: Terrifying Creatures of the Deep*** ***Winner of The Under the Sea Writing Contest @Jos1eDemuth and @BrittanieCharmintine*** ***Slow, slow updates*** Sir Charles Darwin, favored scientist of h...